Tamara Drewe: Stephen Frears Film, Starring Gemma Arterton

Stephen Frears (The Queen) directed “Tamara Drewe,” starring Gemma Arterton, an adaptation of the famous Tamara Drewe character as well as a graphic novel
Many believe that Stephen Frears’ defining characteristic as a filmmaker is his ability to leapfrog from genre to genre to avoid categorisation. Once Stephen had decided to take on the film, his longtime producer Tracey Seaward began to assemble some of his regular collaborators. Tamara Drewe features a number of them – Mick Audsley (Editor), Alan Macdonald (Production Designer), Alexandre Desplat (Music), Consolata Boyle (Costume Design) and – from the cast – Roger Allam.
“The interesting thing about Stephen,” says Alan Macdonald, “is that it’s very difficult ultimately to find out what a Stephen Frears film is. It’s not like an Almodóvar film where there are scenes you see that immediately make you think ‘Ah, it’s an Almodóvar film’. The catalyst for Stephen is the script always, and stylistically the three films I’ve done with him – The Queen, Chéri and Tamara Drewe – couldn’t be more different from one another. I think that is exciting and challenging for both of us. I understand Stephen probably a lot better now than when I started on The Queen, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, because he is psychologically looking for a different approach every time. An approach that’s pertinent to the location and the subject matter.”
Mick Audsley speculates on what it was about Tamara Drewe that he thought appealed to Frears’ sensibilities: “I thought it was what I would call very Stephen-like material – the wry wit, and, you know, it’s dark in places. The interesting thing we’ve discovered in cutting the film is that initially it seemed to be much lighter at the front and then there was a sort of point where it suddenly became darker, and we were always concerned that the two belonged to each other. But it’s unique to this film that it has a tragedy at the end, but you were still able to laugh in a wry way throughout that, and I think that’s Stephen’s achievement with this film.” And on his continued relationship with Frears, Audsley adds: “All the issues that you need as an editor – which are to do with being entrusted with the director’s material and being able to feel free to manipulate it and offer things up – is something you can easily do for a friend. And it takes a lot of energy to strike new relationships and new collaborations, and win that trust, and we have twenty-five years and nearly twenty films or so fall back on.”
Producer Alison Owen agrees with what attracted Frears to the material: “His sense of humour I think. Stephen’s own sense of humour is very wry, and ironic, and dry, and that’s Posy’s sense of humour but done in a much gentler way. So, I mean Posy’s sense of humour is not sardonic – it’s wry but it’s not sardonic – and Stephen immediately just connected to the material and got that, I think largely because it’s his own sense of gently poking fun at people but in a kind way – that he understands. There’s a humanity that underlies all the fun-poking.”
On the receiving end of the fun-poking in this film are writers. Tamara Drewe’s screenwriter elaborates: “Glen, the Hardy academic, has got this great line about writers that they are the most self-regarding sacks of shit around, and there is something about writers that can be a little bit too self-regarding; all that stuff about ‘my craft’, and feeling they are somehow different from the rest of population because they’re observers on life and they’re creative in that way and therefore they get special treatment. I mean it’s not true and most writers are very humble about their work, which is a job like any other really. You get up in the morning, you make your tea and you write. But I think there’s something that’s so easy about taking the mickey out of just about any self-regarding writer, you know.”
Frears is renowned as an actors’ director, with a strong track record of unearthing new stars, eliciting great performances from his cast, and creating an environment on set wherein his actors enjoy their work. Gemma Arterton discusses her relationship with Stephen and what he brings to Tamara Drewe: “Stephen’s always changing his style, he’s always doing things you don’t expect him to do. Because it is a comedy and it’s very different to what he’s done before, he’s the perfect guy for it because he’s making it into something that’s not just another British comedy. He’s making it really unique and bringing some real eccentricity to it. He’s brilliant because he’s tapping into the deeper side of it, he’s making the characters so real within that comedy that you are moved by it.”
Generosity is also a word that crops up frequently when the cast discuss their director. Dominic Cooper: “Stephen gives you a tremendous amount of confidence. Playing my character, in a comedy, you need to feel very confident about what you are doing and very relaxed and able to take risks with it, because you are doing something quite heightened. So you have to be prepared for it to be very wrong and to make a fool of yourself and if the set and the company feels comfortable amongst each other than you have much more range to be able to experiment, and Stephen really allows that to happen.”
Says Roger Allam: “He doesn’t tend to interfere obsessively with the detail of the acting, but he’ll often catch you in the lunch break, come and say something generous.” And finally Tamsin Greig: “I think Stephen casts well and he’s interested in people so you trust that what you bring is what he wants and you’ll soon know if it’s not what he wants. He’s like a sculptor, you know, he waits till things emerge.”
Stephen Frears himself remarks on what, for him, was unique about Tamara Drewe: “I can’t ever answer the question, ‘What kind of film is it?’ I say, ‘Oh, it’s a pastoral comedy.’ Well, you know – A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a pastoral comedy, but there aren’t a lot of them around. The English don’t make films about the middle classes. And when they are, they’re mainly period. I suppose you’d call Tom Jones a pastoral comedy but it’s because it’s so drowsed in history. They just don’t exist – contemporary films set in the English countryside like this. So you could see immediately it was unlike anything else. I’m very pleased at how funny it is – though I can see it deals with sort of dreadful things! And I can only apologise! I’ll bet I’m the only man in the world who can do a cattle stampede in Dorset!”
The film is being released October 8 by Sony Pictures Classics.